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By Dave Creek Fox 41 Web Producer
SELLERSBURG, Ind. (WDRB Fox 41) -- One after another, four 1,200-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines roar to life. Slowly the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress begins to roll. Aboard the historic craft are members of the Liberty Foundation, dedicated to restoring and flying planes representing this nation's aviation heritage, and members of the media.
Pilot John Hess and co-pilot Ron Gause ease the plane off the runway at the Clark County Airport in Sellersburg, Ind. We head south toward Louisville.
The B-17 quickly arrives over the Ohio River, making a left turn to fly over the Ohio River, then downtown Louisville. Louisville Slugger Field is an obvious landmark, as is Spaghetti Junction, but we get a much more lingering glimpse of them and other downtown sights than we're accustomed to from a commercial airliner.
After our downtown tour, I get to sit in the bombardier's position in the front of the plane. This is a sensation few fliers get to experience -- there's nothing ahead of you except the forward blister of the plane -- you're even sitting ahead of (and below) the pilots. Short of gaining Superman's powers, this is about as pure an experience of flight as I would ever expect to have.
The 20-minute flight goes by in a flash. It's not as smooth a ride as a commercial jet by any means, but even a rather nervous flier such as myself finds it more fun than daunting. You can share some small part of my experience by viewing the slideshow at the top of this page.
The Clark Regional Airport, which usually welcomes small prop planes and jets, is hosting this bit of American history through the weekend. The foundation admits some people consider the cost a bit pricey -- $430 for anyone not a member, and $390 for members. These paid flights are about 45 minutes long, compared to the 20-minute flight the media received on Monday.
But pilot John Hess says anyone who actually takes the flight considers it money well spent, and many people pool their money to buy a flight for a relative who is a veteran of WWII.
It's not for me to say whether the cost is worth it to you, but having taken such a flight, I can testify that it left many cynical members of the media saying, "How cool is this?"
But there is also a serious side to the flight.
Usually we learn about history from books or in a classroom, but sometimes we have the opportunity to learn about it in a very personal, even visceral way. Set the fun of the flight aside, and it's difficult to imagine the conditions in which our fathers and grandfathers flew missions aboard this cramped aircraft.
Our flight reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 feet. During WWII bombing missions, the crew would fly tens of thousands of feet higher, in freezing conditions, having to wear oxygen masks much of the trip. Suddenly the mid-afternoon temperatures here in southern Indiana, topping off in the nineties, seemed pretty comfortable.
Most B-17s operated in Europe during WWII, flying missions to bomb German military installations or cities. During the long hours of a bombing mission, planes would come under attack by German fighters or anti-aircraft guns as they made their bombing runs. Even after dropping their bombs, they still weren't safe, and had to fight their way back to bases in England.
By all means take a flight aboard the B-17 if you wish, and be sure to have fun while you're aboard.
But afterward, be sure to think about the men and woman who fought during World War II and what they went through. To them, it was personal, it was visceral. And they saved the world.